Who am I? What am I? What makes me who and what I am? How much of who or what we are is determined by our genes, how much by the way we are brought up? How do we change over time? Which part of us is our culture, which is our ethnicity, our citizenship?
When you type 'identity' into wikipedia, you get loads of choices as they say Identity may refer to:
Personal conception and expression
Specifications of persons
Group expression and affiliation
Culture and the arts
How did I get started on this topic? In New Zealand a higher percentage of Maori children and children from Pasifika families underachieve than children from other ethnicity. The Ministry of Education has put special emphasis on the achievement of these ethnic groups. There is a very interesting discussion on the Virtual Learning Network, VLN, here
about Maori learners - what makes them Maori, how do we define success and what makes them want to be successful.
I am not Maori, I have taught a lot of Maori children though. Not being Maori limits my credibility in some people's opinion. There are some wonderful smart people out there that have lots of valuable insights, e.g. Prof. Russell Bishop. I have also been very impressed by some of Hana O'Regan's comments; she explained at a workshop in Waitangi "Working with Maori" (17 October 2012) the educational view of Maori students being practical and hands-on from a historical perspective where in the early 20th century the ruling class (non-Maori) were adamant to keep Maori in their place by directing them through their schooling to menial jobs; before this New Zealand had a rich Maori academia. Another point she made I have been pondering is racial stereotypes We all hold some stereotypes; for example I follow the blog of a very creative woman in Australia - her day job is a librarian, which stereo-typically is not really someone very creative (at least in my view). Now if I pride myself on not
holding racial stereotypes, does the other person know this or do they think I do
hold a racial stereotype about them?
I don't want to avoid the debate of what it means to be Maori, or what success for Maori looks like, but I want to focus on sth. I know a lit bit more about - immigrants. My husband and I both hail from the same small town in Germany. His family was well established there for several generations while my parents moved their in the 70s - which means they have always remained newcomers and never quite become locals. Husband and I moved to New Zealand in the 90s and started our family here. Our three sons, all compulsory school age, are entitled to both the German and the New Zealand passports. All three have a fair to good understanding of the German language, though English is definitely their first language and their preferred way of communication. They see themselves as Kiwi boys - Pakeha New Zealanders. As a parent, I always classed myself as 'European' or 'Other - German' (more on this further down). In our home we try to keep up some of the German traditions, incl. food items, the way I make (or don't make lol) their beds, when and how we celebrate Christmas etc. Are they truly Kiwi? Are they truly German - their genes certainly are? Are they their own unique mixture of both?
For me personally there is an additional twist to this. I have been born and grown up in Germany. When you hear me talk, you can hear my German accent. Yet, by passport I am now a New Zealander and only a New Zealander as the German government in their wisdom limits German citizens to one citizenship unless you jump through a lot of hoops (which husband has done - he now has both passports). Am I any less German than him? Am I less German than my sons who have not been to Germany before? None of us five are 'good Germans' I suppose as a good German would not dream of emigrating and taking up other citizenships lol - there's another stereotype for you!
Right now I describe myself as a Pakeha New Zealander who grew up in Germany. Yet there are many other descriptions of my identity according to time, place, context: Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, educator, neighbour, friend, quilter, blogger, definitely not a good housekeeper!
What impact does this have on my work as educator? I believe (at this point in time) that:
- We all have multiple identities, depending on time, place and context.
- We are all a product of our heritage, our upbringing, our education, the context we live in.
- We are all unique, we are all important, we are all capable of stepping beyond stereotypes
- I want to treat all learners I work with - children and adults - with respect for their identity, support them in their search for their identity, affirm them in their identity.
Can this translate to work with Maori and Pasifika students? I certainly think so, because 'One size fits one - we are all unique!' but I am not done pondering this topic further...